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Harford school board hires statewide lobbying organization to run superintendent search

The Harford County Board of Education voted Monday night to hire a statewide organization that advocates for local school boards to lead the search for a new superintendent of schools.

The Maryland Association of Boards of Education, or MABE, will be paid $29,000, plus expenses, to lead the search for candidates to replace Superintendent Barbara Canavan, who earlier this month announced her retirement, effective June 30.

Canavan has led the 37,500 student Harford school system since mid-2013, and has worked for HCPS nearly 45 years, Her current annual salary is $218,307, according to HCPS spokesperson Lindsay Bilodeau.

A letter of agreement between the Annapolis-based MABE and the Harford school board was part of the board’s consent agenda during its business meeting.

“MABE has extensive experience in facilitating searches throughout the state,” board President Joseph Voskuhl said.

All board members present — member Robert Frisch was absent — voted in favor of the consent agenda, including the agreement letter.

The agreement calls for a payment of $14,500 iupon signing. The second half is due when a superintendent is hired.

Voskuhl said any of MABE’s expenses, beyond the $29,000 payment, “may vary, depending upon the requirements of the board in our search.”

Harford’s board and the other 23 local boards of education in the state belong to MABE, which lobbies for their interests in Annapolis and Washington, D.C., conducts workshops for local board members and runs an insurance pool for the local boards, according to the organization’s website, which states:

“The mission of the Maryland Association of Boards of Education is to provide members with a strong collective voice, and to support local school board governance through professional development, advocacy and member services.”

“MABE has a team of trained search consultants available to work, on a fee-for-service basis, with individual boards searching for a new superintendent,” according to its website.

The organization is conducting a superintendent search for the Carroll County Board of Education, according to its website. Superintendent Stephen Guthrie announced in July 2017 that he will not seek another term after his second term ends June 30, the Carroll County Times reported last summer.

The Harford County board contracted with MABE in 2009 to oversee its search that resulted in the hiring of Robert Tomback. A search firm associated with MABE screened the initial applicants, and the school board interviewed four finalists, selecting Tomback, who had been a deputy superintendent of Baltimore County Public Schools.

Tomback led Harford County Public Schools from 2009 to 2013, stepping down in July 2013 at the end of a four-year contract. He received frequent criticism from elected officials, parents and unions for being an outsider who never integrated himself into the local community, according to various reports in The Aegis during his tenure.

Canavan was given a one-year appointment as interim superintendent in 2013. Tomback had moved her from a middle school principal to a senior level management position overseeing all the HCPS middle schools.

The rationale given by the 2013 board for the interim appointment was to give it more time to conduct an extensive search for Tomback’s permanent replacement. The board appointed an internal search committee and hired an outside firm, Ray and Associates, but ultimately settled on Canavan, giving her the state standard four-year contract at the start of the 2014-15 school year.

Voskuhl, who was elected to the school board in 2015, said the board studied various organizations which could help with the superintendent search. He said “MABE, to us, has a good program” to attract candidates for the position.

“We’re trying to cast as wide a net, so to speak, over as many candidates as we can, and MABE can do that for us,” he said after Monday’s meeting.

Voskuhl said Harford County’s next superintendent must meet the state’s certification requirements, another area in which MABE can help.

Laura Runyeon, vice president of the Harford school board, said MABE will “present all qualified candidates” to the board, and those qualifications will be based on criteria developed by the board.

Runyeon, who was appointed to the board in 2015, said she and her colleagues are still developing their criteria and are working to identify focus groups, gather public input, create a candidate profile and start advertising.

“MABE is an additional resource to move that process forward,” Runyeon said. “We really want to be sure we have looked at all qualified candidates, and we have time to do that.”

The hiring of the next Harford superintendent will be the first by a school board with six elected members and three members appointed by the governor, a so-called blended board established under state legislation that took effect in mid-2009, but was not fully implemented until July 1, 2015 when the current board was seated

Only three members of the current board, Frisch, Joseph Hau and Nancy Reynolds, were in office in 2014 when Canavan received her permanent appointment as superintendent.

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